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Coyotes visit Blue Jackets in Richards' home debut

by Brian Hunter
COYOTES (20-17-7) at BLUE JACKETS (11-26-5)


Last 10:
Phoenix 2-4-4; Columbus 2-7-1

Season Series:
First of four meetings this season. The teams play a home-and-home in March and close out the series April 3 in Phoenix. The Coyotes got the better of the Blue Jackets with three wins in 2010-11, but Matt Calvert recorded the hat trick in the lone Columbus victory.

Big Story:
While a grueling road stretch comes to an end for Phoenix, interim coach Todd Richards gets set to make his home debut behind the Columbus bench. Richards took over Monday for the fired Scott Arniel, and got the privilege of having his first game be on the road against Central Division rival Chicago, which is contending for the best record in the Western Conference. The end result was a familiar one for the Blue Jackets this season, leaving Richards to try again Friday for his first victory.

Team Scope:

Coyotes: This the finale of a three-game road trip for Phoenix, which has played seven of its last eight and 10 of its last 13 away from Arena. Eight of the Coyotes' next 10 will be at home, including six in a row at one point. On Thursday, however, they had the unenviable task of trying to end the Red Wings' 12-game winning streak at Joe Louis Arena. It nearly happened, as Radim Vrbata and Taylor Pyatt gave the Coyotes a pair of one-goal leads, but they had to settle for a single point as the Wings rallied and eventually sent them to their second straight shootout defeat, this one a 3-2 final.

"Nobody thought just one goal would do it. We knew we needed to get another one," captain Shane Doan said of the go-ahead goal early in the third. "We couldn't find the second one."

Blue Jackets: Anaheim lit the lamp seven times in the final game before Arniel was dismissed, and Richards saw the same struggles on defense and in goal on Tuesday as Chicago dealt Columbus a 5-2 loss in his first game as a head coach since Minnesota let him go in April. Blue Jackets goalie Curtis Sanford was victimized by a Viktor Stalberg hat trick. RJ Umberger scored and played nearly 17 minutes, but after coming out for the start of practice Thursday left the ice. Richards later revealed Umberger was suffering concussion-like symptoms and will miss some time.

"It's going to be a challenge," Richards said of turning the Jackets' fortunes around. "It's not me, it's everyone. It's the other coaches in the room and the players. … We're all in this together. There's work ahead of us."

Who's Hot:
Vrbata has 5 goals in his last six games and 21 for the season, just six off the career high he set in 2007-08 in his first stint with the Coyotes. Mike Smith is 1-0-3 in his last four starts, but has given up just five non-shootout goals while posting a .963 save percentage. … Aaron Johnson has picked up 3 assists in the Blue Jackets' last two games.

Injury Report: Phoenix defenseman David Schlemko (lower body) and forward Martin Hanzal (facial laceration) are on injured reserve. … Umberger joins Jeff Carter (shoulder) as Columbus forwards who are out indefinitely. Defensemen Radek Martinek (concussion) and James Wisniewski (ankle) and forwards Kristian Huselius (groin) and Mark Letestu (hand) are on injured reserve.

Stat Pack: Despite seeing a team-low 8:58 of ice time, Coyotes defenseman David Rundblad picked up an assist against the Red Wings and was a plus-2 with two hits and a blocked shot. … Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash recorded a season-high nine shots Tuesday.

Puck Drop: When the roster for the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game -- set for Jan. 29 in Ottawa -- was announced Thursday, one player from each team received the call. Defenseman Keith Yandle represents Phoenix, while Ryan Johansen of Columbus was one of 12 rookies to be honored.

"It means a lot," said the 19-year-old Johansen, taken with the fourth pick in the 2010 Entry Draft. "And now, I think I just need to work on being more consistent and that's what I've been working at. Once I can find the consistent level of play every night, I know I'm capable of being a good player in this League."

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